Every October, hundreds of pumpkins make their way from pumpkin patches and into the homes of families eager to cut off the tops, scoop out the innards and get creative with carving. At the same time, sugar pumpkins, which seem tiny in comparison, are transported from farmers markets to kitchens and used to make delicious fall dishes packed with powerful natural substances that have the potential to transform your health. Read on to discover the perks of pumpkin and why you should use it for more than just pie.
Low in Calories, High in Nutrients
One cup of cooked pumpkin contains about 49 calories and delivers a healthy dose of nutrients. Vitamins A, C and E are found in abundance along with many B vitamins. Minerals in pumpkin include copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous. Like all winter squashes, pumpkin also serves as a good source of fiber. Pure canned pumpkin can provide similar benefits.
Cartoenes to Fight Cancer
The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods notes that the carotenes giving pumpkins their rich orange color wield antioxidant power inside your body. In fact, pumpkins are "one of the best-known sources" of beta-carotene according to Medical News Today. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage that leads to cancer and other serious conditions. Natural beta-carotene has been shown to be especially effective in reducing the risk of both prostate and lung cancer. The combination of vitamin C and antioxidants such as carotenes works to boost immunity to further protect against the development of cancer.
A Healthier Heart
Most plant foods, including pumpkins, are low in sodium and also contain potassium in a ratio that helps balance the two minerals in cells. A single cup of cooked pumpkin provides 564 milligrams of potassium. Working in combination with fiber and vitamin C, healthy potassium levels help balance blood pressure, lowering the risk of strokes and other cardiovascular damage. Phytosterols present in pumpkin seeds may help to promote health health by lowering LDL cholesterol.
Blood Sugar Balance
Some properties of pumpkin may make it beneficial for people suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Eating pumpkin appears to help lower blood glucose levels, increase insulin production and improve glucose tolerance. This can translate to a more balanced glucose response and an increase in the body's ability to respond to insulin.
Ready to start adding more pumpkin to your diet? It's simple to prepare and can be used in everything from breakfast to dessert.
Cooking with Pumpkin
To prep and cook a pumpkin, treat it like any other winter squash. Knock on it to check for ripeness; it should sound hollow. Give it a good wash to get rid of any dirt, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. (You can save them to roast later if you like.)
To roast, place the cut sides down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook at 350F for 40-45 minutes. When it's done, the skin should peel off easily. If you need pieces of pumpkin for use in a recipe, peel the skin off the raw pumpkin and cut each half into chunks of the desired size.
Use prepared pumpkin in soup, curry, stew or even chili! Experiment with spice combinations to find new favorites and get more out of this nutritious fall vegetable.
Remember that the benefits of pumpkin come from eating the squash in its unprocessed form, not scarfing an entire pumpkin pie -- but a pie made from fresh pumpkin or canned pumpkin without additives is still far healthier than all the candy that tends to invade the house this time of year! So enjoy your seasonal pie -- and use pumpkin in other recipes throughout the season.
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